I've been looking at this class for two years, and I finally decided that I would take it as a little graduation treat for myself. Merryl lives in Webster Groves, MO, but that shouldn't stop out-of-towners from taking the class. We had a student drive from Mississippi and two from Kansas to learn about cheesemaking. Webster Groves City ordinances allow residents to keep a limited number of certain animals on their property, so she has her own little herd of milking goats! Merryl teaches cheese classes out of her house, giving the lessons a sort of informal, comfortable feel. First, we learned about milking the goats and properly handling the raw milk. For example, if the milk isn't going to be made into cheese immediately, it should be cooled relatively quickly to prevent the natural bacteria from turning too much lactose to acid (which will make the milk sour and the resulting cheese icky).
Stirring the Curd
I took Merryl's all day class, so we made lots of cheese. Fresh chevre, camembert, swiss, cheddar, and ricotta from the whey of the cheddar. We learned lots of techniques and interesting facts. Like, who would have guessed that cheddar cheese takes a huge amount of time to make (lots of stirring of the curds), but camembert and brie are simple to make? We discussed the appropriate times at which to add bacterial culture (if needed) and rennet. Then we learned what the curd should look and feel like when it's ready to cut. Camembert and other "bloomy rind" cheeses are molded once they have properly coagulated. The curds for cheddar and swiss had to be cut into small pieces and stirred before they were molded and pressed. The cheese press for the cheddar was simple, but clever; Merryl uses a jug filled with water as a weight and moves it along the pressing arm to vary the pounds of pressure. The pressed cheeses are turned occasionally as the whey drains from them. When the cheddar it pressed, it gradually smoothes out. In the photo, the cheese was being unwrapped, turned, and replaced in the mold. The individual curds were still visible.
This was a great class and I recommend that everyone give cheesemaking a try. It definitely gives you an appreciation for the amount of work that went into something that seems so simple. I'll never think of a grilled cheese sandwhich the same way! Merryl is hoping to have a book about cheesemaking published soon, so keep an eye out for it. For more information about Merryl Winstein's cheesemaking classes, visit her website at http://www.cheesemakingclass.com/ Be creative and enjoy!